Web Development/Design Career Change Questions (Beginner)

Hi there,

I’ve got a few questions regarding the web development and design industry (I’m aware they are different things) and was hoping you guys in the business can offer your thoughts.

I’m a 27 year old architecture graduate, and have worked in the architecture industry for the past 5 years or so. Whilst I’ve never really thoroughly enjoyed it, it’s been ok. However, the industry has suffered horrendously through the current economic situation; the company I work for has cut its staff almost in half over the past 18 months or so, and I’m now on a much lower salary than I probably hoped to be on when I started. I appreciate that almost all industries have suffered a similar fate, but I’ve seen a lot more new websites go up over the past 6 months than new buildings.

With that said, I’ve felt for the past few months that now might be a good time for a career change, or at least a good time to start looking into one. This is where we get onto the web stuff.

I’ve long had a great interest in graphic design - web, print, all aspects. I actually did some graphic design during college, but never followed it through any further. I’ve kept up to date with design trends simply because I enjoy it as a spectator, but I think it may be something I’d actually like to get into as a career.

I’m not currently sure whether I’m leaning more towards design or development, but let’s say at this stage probably a bit of both. At least initially. I’m more technical than I am creative, but I do like to get the crayons out every so often, so to speak.

So, after that unnecessarily long intro, I have a few questions.

  1. Is web design and web development a career choice likely to hold opportunity into the foreseeable future? I know nobody has a crystal ball, but just hypothetically, is one likely to be able to find jobs are available, either freelance or in-house.

  2. How long, typically, would be a realistic amount of time to set myself to aim for employment (again, either freelance or in-house). 1 year, 2 years? I suppose it is very much a subjective question, but assuming I learn at a reasonable pace and spend a good amount of time actually doing it.

  3. If you were starting from scratch, would you recommend design or development as a more viable career path?

And finally, the most important question:

  1. What kind of ‘roadmap’ would you recommend for a beginner to take. For example, HTML+CSS + General Design > JS/Rails/PHP > ??

I think it’s safest to say I have zero experience. I did actually explore HTML and CSS a long while ago, and built a very very basic page using it when I wanted to try to set up a portfolio site. This was back in the 2.0 days, and I’ve probably forgotten 99% of what I learned. That said, I do still understand a lot of the core concepts of HTML/CSS. So, with that in mind, where would you recommend I start?

It’s probably worth mentioning that I’m not concerned with the technicalities of things like software or design fundamentals. I’ve used Creative Suite for many years anyway, and things like design fundamentals and user experience I like to read up on in my spare time.

I should also add that I’m not in this for money. I just want an enjoyable, rewarding career that pays the bills and supports my family! I also want to help rid the web of the awful examples of web design that seem to still remain all too familiar.

So, thanks for reading this mammoth text and I look forward to your comments.


It seems everyone in Web Development has a slightly different background. It is a broad field.
Doing both design and backside programming is really too much for one person to do well.
In my view, a designer with technical leaning has a big competitive advantage. It allows you to push the limits of what can be done, and operate with more overall competency. I would suggest mastering html/css and studying usability.

It is a field that is continually evolving, and I don’t see it shrinking any time soon.

Firstly, I would say that “web designer” and “web developer” as a career no longer exist (as such). Today, they are more of an overarching discipline that contains within it many, many sub disciplines and also that there are many other overarching disciplines and that they have a lot of crossover.

The days of “jack of all trades” is kind of gone; the field is a lot more mature and its massive with loads of different types of solution, platform and even complete industry crossover where skills can apply on, in relation too or even miles away from the web itself.

What would be better for someone starting out would be to first decide on the type of skills you can excel in; such as art, design, creative ideas, user interface or experience design (I lump that separately deliberately), application programming and what-not-else.

Then from that, decide upon the types of application you can apply yourself.

For example; you might have an artistic flare and have really good, unique creative ideas and an understanding or interest in usability and how people interact with user interfaces. You might find how people engage with an application; or how to excite or compel a user to be really interesting; which would lead you possibly down the fields of a user experience designer (a UX designer) either freelance or in an agency.

To take that further, you might find your artistic skill applies to entertainment, maybe games. Or you might find that’s where your interests are, which would lead you down a games industry route, either providing to game producers or an agency that works with the gaming industry or maybe even away from the web entirely and into actual games as a UI/UX designer there.

Many thanks for the replies.

Ok, I understand. The state of the industry is really not something I know much about at all so it’s good to get a bit of info on the way it currently works.

In terms of where I see myself heading with it, I’m not really sure. At this stage, I think my interests lie somewhere in the middle. I’m certainly not a super-arty-graphics type of person, simply because I don’t think I have the creative ideas for wonderfully groundbreaking visuals. I mean, I have the technical skills to piece together an attractive PSD, but creating anything to rival current graphic designers (or web-designers) is unlikely purely from a creative standpoint.

At the other end of it, I really don’t think 100% programming is something I’d be into. I certainly like the idea of the technical aspect of things, going a little deeper than the front-end stuff, but I think I’d like to remain involved with the visual ideas at least a little bit.

Of course, that may change when I actually get into doing it.

Also, you mentioned the games industry. I’m pretty sure that’s not a field I want to head into. I love playing games, but I think it’s unlikely I’d enjoy making them. I have spent a portion of the past few years in my current line of work doing a lot of 3D/CG stuff for architectural visualisation and the like (an example of one of my recent pieces), and it really doesn’t interest me enough to want to seek a career in it. I mean, I can respect great game artists, but doing 3D 40 hours a week (or 75 as the case may be ;)) is really not for me.

EDIT: Ah I see you meant UI design in games. That’s certainly a possibility I suppose, I can see how it ties in with web-based UI design, so it could indeed be something worth exploring.

It was an example, I wasn’t suggesting it may actually be for you.

If you are interested in the front end from a technical angle then UI/UX fields are crossed over; with the artistic side (design) and the technical side (implementation). You can be a UI or UX developer as opposed to designer. Many fields have a creative and technical opposite.

If you don’t really know what you want to do, maybe have a look at the types of site that interest you; peruse the bigger agency websites; particularly their careers/jobs pages and see how the job specs match what interest you. It might give you an idea of the job titles that appeal.

Maybe toy around with some mock sites; build a few things while learning; set yourself a goal; like “I will build such and such a website” - maybe choose a site and copy it; and build it end to end as best you can; learning as you go. You will quickly discover what you do and do not enjoy, what you find comes easy to you and what you struggle with.

Note: Don’t choose anything too ambitious else you’ll just outright fail.

Of course you could just be a general jack of all trades; designing basic websites; but you’ll really limit your earning potential if you do and it will probably get worse.

Yeah I see your point, some great advice there, thanks.

UI stuff might actually be quite a nice balance. I would imagine there’s a fair bit of technical stuff there (a lot of games use Scaleform which is based on ActionScript right?), with a focus on interactivity, of course. It’s certainly something I’ll explore.

I think I’m keen to fit myself into some kind of role, rather than be a jack of all trades as you say. At this stage though I guess it’s too difficult to tell.

In any case, thanks again for your advice!

I come from a construction background. I was a contractor for as long as I can remember. I too am in the process of starting a new career in web design. I was interested in computers back in the '70s and went to school for it and got my A.S. in data processing. I dappled with it a little in 07-08 as far as internet marketing. My present attempt started last May taking online courses in web design. I just finished the introductory version of my portfolio last week. Still looking forward to landing my first job that isnt work Im doing for myself. I dont pay very well. There are a lot of crossovers in implementation. Its getting to know the medium that is the challenge. I hope I can get as good with building websites as I was at building buildings. I dont saw anymore, I slice. I dont pour foundations, I code templates. Ive gone from 3D to 2D and its a lot less physical.

If I were you just take online courses. Borrowing money for an education is becoming an outdated means of gaining knowledge in my opinion. Everything you need to know is right at your fingertips and a lot of it is free.

I learned my HTML and CSS. Got real familiar with Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Illustrator. Then I spent some time building my portfolio site.

The way I see it is the web developer is more like the architect and the designer is like the builder. Except in this case ether will hire the other as subs.

Your insight that maybe you should learn a new career is a good one unless you have saved enough to retire. I wish you the best of luck.

Thanks for the reply!

It’s surprising how many people I hear about who’ve left the construction industry (from various backgrounds) in favour of other industries.

Thanks for the suggestions, I totally agree about the online education. There’s such a wealth of info available now to everyone at a relatively low cost.

I’m currently working through a HTML/CSS book familiarizing myself with that first, I’m actually really enjoying it. Writing HTML/CSS seems to come quite naturally, whether the same will be said for programming remains to be seen but for now, things are going well.

Thanks again.

Here is a site I found that was of help to me. Still is.

[FONT=Verdana]I would have to disagree with you about the benefits of that site. www.w3fools.com explains why.

There are plenty of good resourses available, some of which are listed on the w3fools site. You could try:

The SitePoint Reference is also helpful.

From the sounds of it, front-end development would be ideal. As a “modern” Web Designer (and it’s true that this term is becomming rather blurry and outdated), you need to be good with quite a lot. You need to know how to design visually, this means graphic user interfaces for the web, for the mobile web, sometimes even for local apps.

You need to know HTML and CSS, you need to know JavaScript, you’ll need to know some of the more popular libraries in various languages, you should know at least one CMS well (though knowing at least two or three would be beneficial) which means you’ll also need to have a basic understanding of a programming language, and you need a good understanding of design itself, from visual grammar, to geometry, trigonometry, drawing, skecthing, typography and lots more.

So, being a front-end designer (I’d say engineer is much more apt) you’ll get a bit of both worlds, you can exhaust bost sides of the brain to your liking.

I think it’s an exciting field to be in, and while the tools and methods are everchanging, designing and engineering isn’t going anywhere. The “how” will likely change but the fundamentals will remain.

:agree: I couldn’t have said it better myself even if I tried… and I didn’t try :stuck_out_tongue: